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Can The IRS Streamline The Filing Process And Lift That Burden From Taxpayers?

Publication Date: 
April 12, 2010
Kansas City Star
Scott Canon

Professor Joseph Bankman is quoted on streamlining the process of tax returns in California and the possibility of doing so nation-wide. Scott Canon of filedthis story:

As we trudge to our accountants with bags of receipts, click anxiously through store-bought software or bravely attack the 1040 with pencil and eraser, some 2 million Californians have a much easier option.

The state did their returns for them. They need only check to see if they agree with the figures and assumptions calculated for them and computer-click their way to completion.


“The IRS could do that, too,” said Joseph Bankman, a Stanford University law professor who has championed the approach.


Bankman likens the U.S. system of tax filing to Visa sending you a blank piece of paper and expecting you to collect the receipts of all your charges and count up what you owe.

He imagines at least two alternatives.

What if the IRS looked at the W-2 record of your wages and the 1099 forms of other income and sent you a tentatively completed return? You’d check that the government got it right, adjust for your charitable contributions and knock the whole thing out in the time it takes to watch a sitcom.

Alternatively, Bankman suggests, we could tap into the information the IRS already has about our income and register the pertinent changes in our lives — a divorce or the birth of a new dependent — when we stop impulsively at the tax preparer’s office. No need for the tax filer to fret over misplaced forms or to spend a weekend organizing records.

“Why doesn’t the government make it easy to do this online? We know it can be done,” Bankman said. “It’s just a download away.”


Bankman and others say the program could be expanded to other taxpayers with multiple wage sources and other forms of income. If the government already has reports on the money you received this year, they reason, it’s simple enough to electronically fill in the blanks for you. Stross wrote that the “60-second tax season” is within our grasp.